BOOK: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

thousandsplendidsunsWhen I turned the last page of this novel — the latest by the author of The Kite Runner — the book that immediately sprang to mind was Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Novel of Staggering Genius. Not because this book and that book have anything in common whatsoever, but simply because that phrase so neatly sums up my feelings about A Thousand Splendid Suns.

This novel tells the story of the last thirty or so years of Afghanistan’s history, told through the eyes of two women brought together by war and culture. The first is Mariam, the illegitimate daughter of a poor woman and a wealthy father who often comes to visit her, but refuses to claim her officially. When her mother commits suicide, Mariam’s father quickly forces her to marry a much older man named Rasheed — in essence just to get rid of her.  At first, Rasheed seems gentle enough. Until Mariam has several miscarriages in a row and her new husband comes to realize she will not be bearing him a son. After that, he turns  brutal and vicious, often beating her for seemingly no reason at all.

The other woman is a young girl, Laila, who lives in Rasheed and Mariam’s neighborhood. When Laila’s story opens, she is a preteen and is best friends with a neighbor boy named Tariq. Over the next couple of years, the two gradually begin to fall in love with each other, ultimately making plans to marry that are foiled when the war against the Soviets begins and Tariq and his family flee Kabul, leaving Laila behind.  She is devastated to lose Tariq, and then devastated even further when both her parents are killed by a missile right in front of her. Injured in the blast, Laila is taken in by Rasheed, who nurses her back to health and then flirts shamelessly with her, much to Mariam’s dismay. A few weeks later, Rasheed tells Laila she can either marry him or take her chances on the street — and, because she has come to realize she is pregnant with Tariq’s baby, Laila agrees to the wedding, so as to avoid having an illegitimate child herself. Rasheed also tells her he’s gotten word that Tariq is dead, which only further resigns Laila to her plight. She and Rasheed are wed, and he quickly begins a sexual relationship with her, leaving Mariam pretty much on her own in the house. Needless to say, Mariam is pretty unhappy with this plan, even though she loathes her husband. As a result, at first anyway, she treats Laila very coldly. But after Laila’s daughter is born, Mariam begins to soften up. And soon, the two women are best friends, joining forces, in a way, against the horrors of their husband’s strict and violent household.

What happens next is a cacophony of lies, grief, war, fighting, brutal Taliban control, fires, rockets, missiles, bullets, and horror. Anybody who has been paying attention over the last decade knows this book is hardly going to end happily, and though it does leave us with an ounce of hope for some of the characters, when this novel was finally over and I set the book down, I started crying and didn’t stop for about an hour. I know Mariam and Laila are fictional characters — but I also know there are thousands of Mariams and Lailas in the Middle East right now suffering through the same terrible, terrible things. I wept for them all, and I haven’t stopped thinking about them since.

Though it may sound like a novel too bleak to pick up, I’d urge you to do so anyway. This novel is brilliantly, beautifully written and tells the story of a war-torn country most Americans consider to be the land of our enemies. Trapped in that land, though, are people who are just like us. And their lives are bleak and hard. And they deserve to be heard.  We should know about them.   Highly, highly recommended.


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4 Responses to “BOOK: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini”

  1. Kelly (Hokie Thoughts) Says:

    When I first read The Kite Runner years ago, I emailed, phoned, wrote, and verbally praised this book in every fashion possible. I think people got sick of hearing me wax rhapsodic about it. When I heard that Hosseini was writing another novel to be told from the female perspective I figured it would be good but didn’t have faith that it would be as good as the first. I should have known, and I now stand corrected. I still have a hard time believing that this book is fiction, as it is such a heartbreaking tale of the two women and their intertwined lives. I have, once again, told my bookworms-in-arms about the latest novel and haven’t seen my own copy of the book since two days after I finished it–well over a year ago. A work of staggering genius, indeed.

  2. Trip Says:

    Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  3. Lizzie Says:

    Okay, Trip – I give! Why are you quoting “Monty Python?” On another note, I do want to thank you for not spoiling “Serenity” for me by explaining your (I thought) totally bizarre quote from that movie. I had my suspicions, and at first, I thought I was right, but when the scene in question finally happened, I hadn’t seen it coming, and was blown away. I was quite impressed, and grateful that it had remained a surprise for me.

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